Do You Need A Compensation Consultant?Do You Need A Compensation Consultant? The time will come when you find yourself between a rock and a hard place at work.  Your ability to produce project deliverables will be challenged by staff shortages, multiple projects simultaneously...

Read more

Do You Value Your Customer-Facing Jobs?Do You Value Your Customer-Facing Jobs? Have you ever walked out of a store because of poor customer service?  Or felt frustrated because the company representative at the other end of the phone did not seem to care?  Or after enduring a bad...

Read more

Why Managers Don't Manage PayWhy Managers Don't Manage Pay When an employee is promoted to their first manager’s position, they are given the proverbial Keys to the Kingdom – your company.  They now have the authority to spend your company’s money.  From...

Read more

Are You Too Busy?

Stress, by Mike KlineIt seems as though everyone is busy at work these days.  We have more challenges to face, more complexities of the job to learn, we have to do more with fewer resources, and there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to get done what needs to get done.

Does this sound like you?  Have I just described your typical day?  I’d wager that this scenario reverberates with many managers and individual contributors out there.  As a result,  we’re always looking for ways to be more efficient, more effective, more focused on the task in front of us, and all without having to spend time and effort that are luxuries today.

Play It Again, Sam

Which is why I suspect that it’s so tempting to hit the “replay” button to administer our reward programs, policies, and procedures.  Let’s just do the same thing again next time (work processes, project plans, program designs, time lines, etc.)  because what we did worked (mainly) last time.  Because we have other issues to worry about, other pressures coming to bear, so let’s stick here and now with what we’re familiar with.

The argument is compelling.  You have only two hands, you have (maybe) limited help available and the ever-present tight time lines are constantly leaning over your shoulder.  Likely your project book is full as well.

So a common tactic we often see is to repeat what you can, wherever you can so that there is more time left to concentrate on the new stuff.  Those programs and projects that you’ve worked on before can safely become a repetitive effort.  You can delegate it, you can push it to the side as you let someone else follow the path you laid out last year, and perhaps the year before. Some workflow can be placed on automatic pilot.

Perhaps that new stuff you want to/have to become engaged with is exciting, so your interests are in spending your limited time and effort there.  Learning new things, perhaps gaining greater exposure with higher management, being challenged a bit more, taking in the breath of fresh air that comes with blazing new paths and gaining new experiences.  New is almost always more invigorating to you as a professional, while the old stuff is just that – old.  And boring.

But there lies the trap.  Letting yourself ignore opportunities to improve on past practices ensures you remain captured and caged by that past.  Because you feel that you don’t have the time to investigate possible improvements to something that has admittedly worked before.   The mantra of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” came from this attitude.

The Risk Of The New Idea

However, when you don’t want to spend the time and effort to try an improved methodology – you keep on doing what you’ve always done – this causes you to miss out on opportunities to explore, invent, experiment.  To grow as a professional.  Taking such risks (avoiding administration and embracing creative tweaking) can pay big dividends – but you have to make the effort, even when that effort is more work than what you have on your plate now.

Perhaps you think, “What if these improvements don’t work?”  You’d have spent all that time and effort, and for nothingAnd now there may not be time to start again with the tried and true method.  Woe is us.

That worry is another reason the pressure remains with us on to automatically repeat, to administer where you could instead innovate.

You should never be too busy to learn new skills, to push the edge of the envelope by trying out new ideas.  You should never be too busy to do the right thing.

Otherwise, you’re doing little more than sitting on your hands, waiting for the clock to say 5:00.

One final thought: what was once effective and efficient eventually starts to lose that positive edge once repetition replaces innovation.  So change the oil in your car before the engine fails.

Excuse To Fail

Mistakes, by Orange_BeardAs an HR or Compensation practitioner, have you ever found yourself trying to change the mind of someone in Senior Management?  When the decision-maker seems hell-bent on rushing down a particular pathway that you’re positive leads only to a cliff?  From your own experience, you’re convinced that the endgame for the projected action will be negative results and also rife with unforeseen consequences.  Such pending damage will land with a thud and could burn you and the organization over undue costs, damaged employee morale, increased turnover, weakened market share, litigation liabilities, etc. etc.  Pick a bad reaction.

So it’s a clunker of an idea.

But the leadership has dug in their heels because they know best.  And you know how low you stand in the organization chart.

We’ve talked before on these pages about various strategies to employ, if you want to, in an effort to chart a different course.  I say “if” because we’ve all seen examples of those who prefer to play the political game and administer vs. lead the compensation function.   Their apparent mantra is, “Keep my head down, smile, nod my head and say whatever the boss wants to hear.”

However, perhaps going with the flow is not for you.  Good, but be prepared for pushback when you say, “Yes, but” to those in charge.  You may find few with the stomach to discuss the merits of the plan about to be unfurled, but instead, they’ll want to reassure you over your apparent concerns about the funding.  Whether you’re actually concerned or not.

It’s a red herring, a distraction.

Because I Have The Money

Have you heard this one?  The reaction to whatever concerns you raise is simply that they have the money.  They’ll say this to you and then consider the issue closed.  It’s like them saying, “Don’t worry about it.  We can afford it.”  As if the availability to fund a bad idea is somehow going to turn lead into gold, to turn a bad idea into a good one.

What!?

This statement is a knee-jerk excuse used in an effort to quash an argument, as if the expense of an idea/program/policy/procedure, etc.  is the sole criteria for success or failure.  Tread carefully here though, because when leadership leads with this excuse, they essentially have nothing else to defend themselves.  It’s like saying, ” I am who am.  And I want to do this.  Deal with it.”  No other rationalization, explanation, justification or darn good reason is given.

You’re encouraged to check the organization chart again.

What to do?  One tactic to consider using is the “There is another way” counter argument, where you first present the problems set up with by the preferred management approach, then suggest circumventing tactics that would – in the end – achieve the same result (management’s goal).  Perhaps you could even save money in the process, but more importantly, you would be offering a way to gain success (their idea) with less downside (problems).

It’s Already In The Budget

This is another lame excuse that’s a close cousin to the first one.  The difference, I suppose is that having the money is anticipatory, while if the money is already budgeted, well then, we’re good to go.  The train has already left the station.

It’s as if to say, “No worries.  We have this covered.”  Again, this sort of response focuses solely on the availability of funds, not whether the idea itself – the reason for spending the money – is a good one.

Our response to this idiot cousin idea should also be similar to your earlier approach, that is, being careful not to overly criticize some senior manager’s pet idea or biased preference.  There’s no need to point out the obvious flaw in their logic.  Instead, you’ll need to be persuasive, not argumentative.  You’ll need to project a concern that the organization succeeds, to acknowledge the valuable contributions of the (suspect) planned approach, then offer a creative alternative that still gets them where they want to go.

Dealing with the lame excuses and poor logic offered by those supposed to be leading the organization is a competency in itself.  Not everyone can pull it off.  You’ll need such skills to succeed where you want to manage, to direct, to lead.  You won’t need it if your plan is to administer.

I Saw It On Dilbert

Dilbert - How To Get Motivated, by Arpit GuptaHere’s a bit of practical advice for every professional out there, whether you’re in Human Resources or frankly any functional department at all.  If you see a work practice or policy highlighted in the Dilbert comic strip (a world of credit to Scott Adams), you should immediately stop that policy or practice as a bad idea.

For the uninitiated out there, since the 1980’s Scott Adams has written about the dysfunctional workplace and its cast of oddball characters that we all recognize.

I used to work for a fellow a number of years ago who had his secretary transcribe his voice mail messages into written text.  He wouldn’t listen to any of his peers/colleagues, never mind lowly little me, that such a practice was – silly/bad/impractical/inefficient/time-wasting, etc.  But when he saw that same practice ridiculed on Dilbert, he stopped that very day.

The World Of Work

Who of us out there cannot identify with the experience of having to work for someone like the “pointy-haired boss?”  Or the co-worker who really doesn’t do anything and always seems to get away with it?

Whether it is Wally the incessant coffee drinking slacker or Dogbert, the HR Director from Hell when these characters suggest a certain course of action I’m usually running in the opposite direction.

Because Dilbert loves to skewer the often ridiculous realities we all seem to face at work.  We can readily identify with the foibles of management, laugh at the meaningless meetings and dysfunctional co-workers, then commiserate with Dilbert himself as the maligned and abused Engineer who keeps trying, day in and day out to keep his sanity in an insane world.

Entertainment

For your entertainment, I have included a few quotes from Scott Adams that relate to the workplace.  You may not agree with everything he says, but he certainly seems to have his hand on the pulse of a commonly mismanaged workforce.

  • “There is no idea so bad that it cannot be made to look brilliant with the proper application of fonts and color.”   Add multiple pages of fluff, lots of colors, a spiral bound booklet and you have the common consultant proposal.
  • “Hard work is rewarding. Taking credit for other people’s hard work is rewarding and faster.” I’ve experienced enough examples of this practice to still get angry at the memories.
  • “The job isn’t done until you’ve blamed someone for the parts that went wrong.”  Finger pointing is a real office skill set, where some players are notoriously Teflon-coated and never seem to face the music.
  • “Be careful that what you write does not offend anybody or cause problems within the company. The safest approach is to remove all useful information.”  Have you ever read an organization’s mission statement?  Or almost anything written by corporate communications?
  • “If you want to kill an idea without being identified as the assassin, suggest that the legal department takes a look at it.”  A good technique for the passive resistor, one who spends more time killing ideas than creating them.
  • “Our system requires a continuous supply of highly capable people who are so disgruntled with their jobs that they are willing to chew off their own arms to escape their bosses.”  So maybe it’s true that employees quit bosses, not organizations.
  • “Accept that some days you are the pigeon and some days you are the statue.”  It rains on everyone.  Those who are successful grab an umbrella and press on.
  • “Lately…the Peter Principle has given way to the “Dilbert Principle.” The basic concept of the Dilbert Principle is that the most ineffective workers are systematically moved to the place where they can do the least damage: management.”  Haven’t we all seen this?  Don’t we all know someone?  How/why did Bob/Sally get promoted?  They must have photos from the Christmas party or some such inexplicable rationale.

So if you read that Wally or Dilbert or the pointy-haired boss are experiencing a new policy, procedure or work practice, laugh along with them even as you move your own thoughts/practices quickly in the opposite direction.

Consider these characters your “daily work alert.”  They’re more accurate than the weatherman.

Is It Yes, No or Maybe?

Money question, by Ano LobbAre you satisfied with the way your organization’s performance appraisal process is working?

Yes, no, or maybe?

One of the most debated issues among Human Resource professionals for the past several years has been arguments regarding effective performance appraisal processes.  Everyone seems to have their oar in the water, anxious to join the debate about what works and what doesn’t.

In one corner you have the performance management crowd who want to divorce pay increases from the performance appraisal process. They prefer to focus attention on performance improvements and career counseling – issues that tend to have a longer-term focus. Looking forward, not backward.  The subject of pay determination (the increase) would come later, during some vaguely defined subsequent conversation.

In another corner, you have the so-called traditional practitioners, those who tie rewards directly to the work effort and in so doing combine performance/reward determination and career counseling steps into a single conversation.  Desired performance improvements and the where-are-we-going? discussion become the epilog, not the main topic.

Finally, you have the seldom reported employee perspective, those who have delivered the performance and await management’s assessment and reward determination.  They expect to see a direct connection between their efforts and a subsequent reward.

What’s Wrong?

Part of the reason for such debate between opposing viewpoints is that performance appraisal systems are flawed; it’s commonly recognized that they’re the object of numerous well-deserved criticisms.

  • Managers do a poor job of it:  Whether it’s lack of training, lack of interest or simply an attitude of “I’ve got more important issues to deal with,” the result is often rushed, poorly thought through and . . . sloppy.
  • Favored son (or daughter) treatment: The “I like you” or opposite syndrome, regardless of performance.  Fair treatment can be a casualty if appraisals are too subjective.  Refer again to the training issue.
  • Job responsibilities not clarified: When the manager expects performance “A” and the employee thinks “B” is called for, while the outdated description shows a muddled “C” – what follows is going to be an awkward conversation.
  • Forms gone wild:  Human Resources and systems people always tinkering with forms, creating ever longer, more complicated processes.  The usual result is a manager’s passive resistance and poorly handled assessments.
  • The focal date review:  “Let’s do these things all at once.”  Procedures that mass produce performance appraisal forms and meetings usually result in a loss of quality – and credibility for the process.  Pity the manager who has ten of these to work on at the same time.

What’s Good?

The process of performance appraisal has been around since the first manager – subordinate conversation, and that learning curve of experience has highlighted a number of advantages:

  • How else are you going to tell an employee how they’re doing?
  • If your compensation strategy is to have a pay-for-performance program, you’ll need performance appraisal to assess the employee’s contribution, and to somehow assign a corresponding reward — to pay . . for. . performance.
  • Employees expect a connection between performance and pay.  That’s what they’re listening for during the performance discussion.
  • It makes sense to periodically review performance/pay levels, to eliminate the need for employees to stress over when to ask for a raise.

Practical Realities

During any performance appraisal discussion, the employee’s first question is likely going to be, “how much is my raise?”  If you’re not prepared to discuss that, even mentioning your “recommendation,” you’re in trouble.  Because employees tend to pay closer attention to career counseling and next steps after the raise for past performance has been resolved.

When an employee expects a performance appraisal discussion to include a reference (at least) to a likely pay raise, and you don’t cover that topic, the meeting will go rapidly downhill from there.

  • They won’t be hearing your thoughts for the future, as they’ve stopped listening.  You’re not talking about what they want to hear.
  • Frustration and lost engagement are going to seep into body language, tone and perhaps even conversation, with the recognition that pay-for-performance is somehow not viewed as a primary concern by management (you).
  • To make the assessment process work employees need to be engaged in the conversation.  Otherwise what you’re left with is delivering a boring lecture to a half-interested party who only hears blah-blah-blah.

My Two Cents

Personally, I recommend connecting performance to rewards, because performance rewarded is performance repeated.

I like to acknowledge the elephant in the room, that employees want and expect that their performance appraisal meeting will cover reward determination as a key component, even if senior management approval remains pending.

I don’t like to artificially separate performance from reward as if somehow the two aren’t connected.  The employee considers it a solid, direct line connection.

Arguments You Can Never Win

The Argument, by Jacob DawsonWhat’s the name of that Greek fellow from mythology, the guy forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it come back to hit him, repeating this action for eternity?  Ah yes, Sisyphus.  Today tasks that are considered futile are described as Sisyphean.

We may not use that term much in everyday usage anymore, but I wager that we have all experienced such a futility of effort.  Frustration to the point of anger.  Ever try to argue politics with someone?  It’s pointless.

Lose, Lose

You can have similar frustrating experiences at work as well.  No, not with politics. But in the case when an employee poses a question about their pay or their standing within the organization; a question for which you don’t have a good answer.  Or at least an answer that you feel comfortable telling them.  Because we all want to give good news, right?  All will be well or will be soon.

But not all the time.

Here are some awkward compensation conversations that offer few popular answers.

  • Job Evaluation:  When an employee asks why their grade is less than someone else.  They’re certain that they know all about that other job, and theirs is at least as important, if not more so.  In their mind, a grade differential is just unfair.
  • Pay Levels:  When an employee asks why their pay is less than someone else.  Like job evaluation, the aggrievement is because the questioner feels that they are worth more, and they will have plenty of emotional arguments to back up their case.  In their mind, the organization is cheating them.
  • Pay Progression:  When an employee asks, “I’ve been here for several years, with continuous good performance reviews.  So why aren’t I paid at least the midpoint of my salary range?”  A worst case scenario is when the employee’s pay is actually closer to the minimum than to the midpoint.
  • Merit Increase?  When you are asked why an increase called “merit” seems to only match market movement and/or the COL.  With a steely look in their eye, they ask what sort of recognition/thanks is involved when their pay rise seems based on anything but their personal merit.

Hiding in your office is never an effective option, as disgruntled employees will search you out and nail you with these probing questions, often at an inconvenient (even public) moment.

Dodging The Bullet

What to say?  Try to strike a balance between transparency, honesty and the management line that you’re supposed to hold.  It can be a tricky exercise, with success not guaranteed at all.  Because sometimes an explanation isn’t going to satisfy the employee, but as straight an answer as you can give is usually a better bet.

  • Job Evaluation:  Most employees, in fact, do not know as much about someone else’s job.  Focus your response on whether the questioner’s job has been properly reviewed.  Defending the decision for another’s job rarely satisfies the complainant.
  • Pay Levels:  Similar to the above, focus on the questioner’s status and don’t get trapped into talking about someone else.  Is the questioner paid fairly for their experience and performance?  Avoid the knee-jerk “none of your business” response that you want to give.
  • Pay Progression:  This is a tricky one, as the facts of the matter may be exactly as the employee complains.  Your reward system may have failed to maintain an employee’s value based on market growth and individual performance.  You had best offer to look into the situation (and mean it).  If you’re talking with a high performer the ultimate response might be a salary adjustment to keep a valued employee, while for Joe Average you’ll need to balance affordability (can’t fix everyone overnight) with a fair response. You may have to wait until the next review period to affect possible changes, but it’s likely you can only fix those employees you’re afraid to lose.

Hint:  Best you check your rewards programs annually to avoid falling into this trap.

  • Merit Increase?  Another tricky one, as again the employee may be correct.  But affordability is a real concern, even if available funds only allow increases similar to market movement and/or the COL.  Emphasize the reason for the increase (performance) and the distinction with lesser performers.  The amount of the increase is determined separately, for different reasons.  You’d be telling the truth, though your answer is not likely to be what they want to hear.

Compensation management can be a tough job when you move away from the technical side (the numbers) and start dealing with the vagaries of employee perspectives and emotional arguments.

Good luck.

I Don’t Trust You

amelia-cat-by-brownpauAn often heard complaint about an organization’s performance appraisal program is that the employees don’t trust their manager to conduct a fair assessment of performance.  That view is also the common response when asked why a company doesn’t use a PA or even Pay-For-Performance (P4P) program to recognize and reward employees.

Isn’t that a sad state of affairs?  I don’t trust you.  I don’t trust the management of my company.  What does that attitude say about your performance culture, or the state of morale or employee engagement when the workforce has such negative feelings for their leadership?  How many successful organizations out there have an employee workforce that doesn’t trust them?

On the other hand, should you simply throw out the baby with the bath water – stop conducting performance appraisals – and instead dole out general pay adjustments just for showing up for work?  Sort of like an attendance award.  Which essentially rejects the idea that individual employee performance levels do vary, and that variance is worth recognizing and rewarding.  Can you afford to treat “Super Joe” the same as “Joe Average?”

Or instead, if faced with this crisis of confidence should you take the more difficult road and make a serious effort to fix the core problem?  Perhaps you should train your managers in how to properly assess employee performance.  Perhaps you should hold them accountable.

Lack of trust can be an avoidable problem if you’re paying attention.

Where Managers Fail

The list below highlights the common concerns that employees are complaining about; where some managers fail to be objective.  Where they can distort performance ratings, one way or another, by committing judgment errors that are based on bias, sloppiness or simply not caring enough about the process.

  • Halo Effect: Generalizing ratings based on one positive achievement or strength.
  • Horn Effect: Generalizing ratings based on one negative experience or weakness.
  • Recency Effect: Rater emphasis on very recent event(s).
  • First Impressions Effect: Generalizing later ratings based on initial impression
  • Different Than Me: Giving lower ratings to those whose methods, interests, attitudes, etc. differ from yours.
  • Like Me: Giving higher ratings to those whose interests, attitudes, methods, etc. are similar to yours.
  • Central Tendency: Evaluating all ratees as average even when performance varies.
  • Carry-Over Effect: Rating during one rating period influenced by ratings from a different period.

Likely you’ve all seen or heard of these examples.  But when such abuses are left unchallenged by an organization’s leadership (all hail the status quo!) the natural result is that those on the receiving end grow to no longer trust the rater or the rating.  Or the process itself.

Did I say sloppiness?  When managers act as if they can’t be bothered by the performances appraisal process (too busy, better things to do, consider it a painful process, already know the answer, etc.), the resultant impact on your workforce will go beyond the ratings themselves.  How long before Joe Employee says, “They don’t care about me.  Why should I care about them?”

Is It Time To Kick Butt?

Small problems left unresolved will eventually morph into larger problems.  Ignoring a problem that is large enough that it can alienate your workforce, disrupt employee engagement, morale and ultimately productivity, turnover and your performance culture, that is a concern that you need to address – to root out at its core.  Or pay dearly for the consequences.

Managers who cannot/will not conduct proper performance appraisal reviews are not doing their job.  It should be considered as simple as that.  And if they are not performing such a key managerial responsibility then they should be held accountable for that lapse.  Their own performance ratings and subsequent rewards should be negatively impacted.  Repeated offenses should put their jobs at risk.

These people are poisoning your workforce.  That should not be allowed to continue.  But how often do you see a manager penalized for not properly managing their staff?  It does seem sometimes that senior leadership isn’t interested, or certainly not focused on negative employee attitudes and perceptions as a cause of concern.

Employees who don’t trust their management to treat them fairly will never deliver the kind of performance, the kind of drive that will bring the organization success.

I have a prediction for you.  The clamor to throw out PA programs will continue to grow and fester as long as an organization doesn’t address the core problem of delivering objective performance ratings for its employees.  As long as leadership turns a blind eye to how managers assess and rate employee performance those affected employees will continue to resent what they consider a flawed and unfair system.  And how motivated is a resentful employee?

You have to deal with bad managers if wish to retain/regain the trust of your employees.  You leave these bad apples alone at your peril, and the cost can ruin your organization.

“I don’t trust you” is a warning sign that the Wraith of Business Failure is knocking at your door.

Are You In A State Of Denial?

Frog Wisdom, by liberalmind1012Many a time I have consulted with clients who would confidently, and even smugly, brag to me that all was well with their core reward programs.  “Everything is working fine,” they would say.  “We may just need to update a few things.”  Their view is that if anything perhaps only a few mid-course adjustments might be necessary.  The source(s) of their company’s largest single expense, their payroll, are working pretty much as intended.

Not much to look at here.

But in truth there often is, that there’s a mass of program rot lying just beneath the shiny veneer of their brightly colored brochures and positive messaging.  If you’re only looking at surface appearances (think of that traditional iceberg picture) you could be turning a blind eye to a powerful dose of reality. Because over time even the best-conceived reward plans will go off the tracks and cease delivering the type of results that they were intended for. If you ignore them.

How long would you dare driving your car without checking the oil?

Using Wallpaper

It’s been said that you can wallpaper over the cracks in a wall, but that those fissures and imperfections would still remain – just no longer in plain sight.  So who are you kidding, when you paper over faulty reward programs that once upon a time worked well?  When you push that “Let’s do this again” button to once again repeat exactly what you did last year, and the years before?

A few common examples.

  • Pay for performance: This is the most popular kicking boy, the P4P program.  Yes, you may say that you reward for individual performance, but to be effective you should be doing more than going through the procedural motions.
    • What percentage of employees receive a “merit” increase?  Would 90+% raise a flag of entitlement vs. earned reward?
    • What is the quality of those performance appraisal forms?  Or are you simply processing paperwork by checking the box, “Received?”
    • Have managers been trained to conduct proper reviews/interviews? Or are they left to their own devices, supposedly “Doing the best they can?”
  • We provide competitive salaries: We hear this one all the time, to the point that this has become an almost meaningless phrase.
    • Are you talking about your salary ranges or actual pay?  Are you walking the talk, or simply pontificating about what could happen?
    • Is your compa-ratio competitive?  Are you even checking? Do you know the danger signs?
    • Being “competitive” still means that 50% of the marketplace pays more than you. Can’t pat yourself on the back over that, can you?
  • Our incentive plans are pay-at-risk: Do you really cut back on variable payments to management when performance slips or is at least a portion of targeted payments already baked into the books?  I have seen the Finance folks “adjust” corporate results to ensure that key incentive payments weren’t negatively impacted.

Some organizations hold back on base salaries, then tout their incentive program as delivering competitive total pay.  Which of course increases the pressure to deliver something in the form of additive “variable” pay.

  • All employees are treated the same: It sounds good when you read phrases like this on the break room wall, but are non-managers really treated the same as managers when it comes to providing reward payments?  Is your leadership assessed in the same objective fashion, or is there a greater concern that some managers/leaders might quit if their rewards were negatively impacted – by even their performance?

I’ve seen organizations who have felt no compunction about freezing or delaying regular performance reviews and merit increases for the general workforce, while at the same time would always ensure that the management cadre received regular increases.

This is not to say that various reward strategies, even some of those listed above may not be appropriate under certain circumstances.  But don’t kid yourself, or worse, kid your employees. They will know when your messages are in a state of denial when compared to actions taken.

And trust is a very hard thing to regain.

Really Bad Decisions

942217_1015285940, by Dan MantylaWhen speaking before a group I’m often asked what key takeaways or gems of wisdom I have learned during the course of my career.  Like most of you, I’m still at it, learning something new every day, but I have gained a valuable perspective from what I’ve seen and experienced.  I’ve learned that professional wisdom comes to each of us in two ways; 1) what you learn to do (what works), and 2) what mistakes you’ve seen or made (what doesn’t work).

Here’s hoping that your career manages to stay on the straight and narrow with positive role models and valuable experiences, but all too often we learn our most useful lessons from failures, from tactics or decisions that didn’t work.  Or from failed managers whom we’ve worked for, those who made repeating mistakes a personal career choice. Either experience can offer valuable lessons that can shape your career.

Common Goofs

Putting together an all-inclusive list of examples would become an endless affair, given the myriad scenarios, personalities and business circumstances that could be involved.  So instead we’ll try to highlight the big mistakes.  Below are reflections of my personal experiences.

  • General Adjustment vs. Merit:  Granting all employees the same pay raise, instead of varying increases on the basis of performance delivered.  Being easy to administer is rarely an effective strategy.
  • Performance vs. Entitlement:  Rewarding management more generously than other employee segments – simply because they’re management.  Leadership is no more entitled to rewards than any other employee group.
  • Discretionary Assessments: When reviewing employees on a subjective vs. objective basis management discretion can sometimes lead to abuses (favored sons, “halo” effect, or even discrimination).
  • Abuse of FLSA Exemptions:  Avoiding overtime by treating non-exempt employees as if they were exempt.  Managers never tire of trying this tactic, and it can really cost you.
  • Surveys says!:  Using a title and a generic catch-all write-up for matching jobs against “the market.”  It’s the easy way.  Anyone can do it.  There’s nothing to interpret, is there?
  • The Performance Distribution Curve:  Assigning individual assessments of employee performance in a manner set to adhere to a bell-shaped graph.  Nobody likes this tactic, except perhaps lawyers for your employees.
  • Ignoring Internal Equity:  Hiring/promoting employees without consideration of how other like-qualified employees are paid.  There are no secrets, so pleasing one while angering two is a dubious tactic.
  • Title Inflation:  That meaningless “bone” you toss employees whom you can’t otherwise reward.  This tactic will raise fixed costs, but without providing a corresponding benefit to the company.  You will eventually regret this decision.
  • The Absent Safety Valve:  To be successful over time, your program should be able to bend, but not break.  This means that sometimes exceptions have to be made, for good business, compassionate or even political reasons.  Not every circumstance will fit into your mold.

Can you see possible rationalizations for pursuing each of the above?  Justification depends on a litany of possible circumstances, individuals and . . . whatever.  Just have a care that your rationalizations don’t become a pattern of indefensible excuses and that you document.

Really Bad Decisions

Then there are those oops! decisions that over the course of one’s career you continue to regret – wishing you had the time to reboot your thought processes.

  • Hiring a friend/relative:  If you would hesitate to sell them a used car, why would you ever think that hiring them would be a good idea?  Correcting this mistake can be painful.
  • Ignoring Office Politics:  I’m not very good at politics” is a poor response to an important reality of the workplace that all managers need to deal with.  It’s all around us, so to pretend you’re above it all, or otherwise ignore it, is likely going to be counter-productive.
  • Performance is everything:  No, it isn’t.  Not anymore.  In today’s workplace image and exposure have become dominant, to the extent that just doing a good job is no longer enough to ensure career progression or even longevity.
  • I was too busy for networking:  Usually heard from people in transition, from those who failed to connect with colleagues, peers and industry insiders while they were employed.  Build your network when you don’t need it, so it’s there for when you do.

Have I missed anything?  Are there other ill-considered compensation practices that you’ve experienced during your own career?

Let me know.

Can You Take A Punch?

Well, can you?  Can you stand up when the criticism has your name on it? Or are you going to fold up like a cheap suit, make excuses and then backtrack?  I’ve seen both.Day 29 Knockout  by Mike Nelson

You know what I’m talking about.  The day will come when the compensation decisions/recommendations are yours to make.  When you’re no longer sitting second chair but instead have to make the calls yourself.  When your own neck is sticking out there.

Likely you have heard the drumbeat criticisms:

  • You don’t know my job
  • Who died and made you king for a day?
  • Where did you get your numbers?  They’re wrong.
  • What do you even know our business?
  • You’re being unrealistic
  • You’ve matched against the wrong jobs
  • You’re just spouting the company line
  • All you care about is your precious budget
  • Don’t you realize that you’re hurting real people here?

Do you want me to go on?  I could, of course, but you get the drift.  Likely you can add your own set of zingers that have been tossed your way.  They can come from all sides but are the most telling when they’re coming from above you.

Where Does This Come From?

Unless you’re a particularly loathsome person this criticism of your work is typically not meant to be personal, though I admit that it usually stings in the same fashion anyway.  The root cause is that someone on the receiving end of your position (your analysis, judgment, recommendation, etc.) didn’t get what they wanted.  So they’re upset and aggrieved, which puts you,  the source of their anger, in the cross hairs.  If they can move you then they can get their way.  So, they push.

Logically you can probably see that much of the criticism is emotional, often unreasonable and may not even have the best interests of the organization in mind.  Critics often do not look past their immediate desires, never mind take the time to consider the possibility of unintended consequences.  But still, these disdainful comments, if used often enough can potentially damage your reputation, your credibility and your image within your organization.

That’s why you shrug off these comments at your peril.

What Are You Gonna Do?

It’s easy to say, “Stand your ground as a professional and do the right thing.” But this isn’t a Disney movie with a guaranteed happy ending.  You can get hurt professionally by such criticism, so an arrogant “who cares?” is likely not going to help you – and can, in fact, make things worse.

Here are a couple of thoughts for you to consider, presuming that you’re not going to surrender and transform yourself into a “Yes person” compensation administrator.

  • Be approachable: You should strive to develop a reputation as someone who will listen, who complainants can talk to.  This doesn’t mean that you have to change course, but that you are willing to let those with a criticism have their say.
  • Be flexible: Be willing to consider that there may be alternative tactics to reach the same goal that your critics desire.  So remain open to suggestions, keep an open mind about possibilities and work with your critics to move in the same direction – if at all possible.
  • Explain yourself: Often times your critics just don’t understand the processes you must go through to reach a conclusion, so tell them.  Make sure that you explain the principles involved (including ramifications) and why you took the stand you did.  That transparency will usually take some of the air out of their complaint balloon.
  • Understand the other side:  Make sure that you actively listen, so that you understand where the critic is coming from; know their perspective.  Knowing an opposing viewpoint might not change anything in your mind, but you’ll get points for having them understand that you do “get it.”
  • Do your job: You can’t be a friend to everyone, you can’t (or shouldn’t) be the practitioner who can’t say no.  Not if you intend to do the job that you’re being paid for.  There are limits to how much you can placate someone who didn’t get their way.

And while you’re at it, work on hardening your skin.  Because you’ve chosen a career where it’s easy to be criticized.

You just need to be able to take a punch.

Bob’s Your Uncle

Cat-reading-glasses-with-paper, by Floho67I once lived in England for five years as an expatriate for my company, and during that time my HR team took great pleasure in confusing me with English words that held little meaning for an American.  Often times I could even repeat the phrase back to them, yet still didn’t understand what the terms meant.

As the Brits often told me, we speak the same language, but we don’t.  My colleagues loved to “take the mick out of me” (poke innocent fun).

One example that stuck with me over time is “Bob’s your uncle.”  Imagine the first time I heard that phrase.   What again?

Within the UK it’s a common phrase that means “And there you go” or “Everything’s fine now.”  But the words just didn’t make sense to me.  But like so many colloquialisms out there, finding the root cause going back decades or more proved a challenge.  It took me almost two years to find someone who could explain where the term originated (we didn’t have Google back then).

Easy Peasy

Two hundred or so years ago there was a high-ranking Member of the English Parliament (Robert, Lord Salisbury) who held great sway (political influence) across the British Empire.  This was a powerful man, and one who believed in nepotism and political cronyism, so it was not unusual for even his distant relations to find themselves gifted with important government positions.

Such favored office holders with familial connections held positions of power, influence and easy living.  Over time the phrase was born, that everything would be easy peasy (fine and dandy) just as long as “Bob’s your uncle.”

And That Applies How?

Which got me to thinking about a message I had received a few weeks back from a recent graduate, one who wanted to make a career in HR, and specifically compensation.  This inexperienced fellow posed a basic query, one often asked by those just beginning their careers.  “How can I achieve success in my chosen profession (Compensation)?”   He wondered whether there was a blueprint, a map, or a guide of sorts to keep him on the straight and narrow.  He had hoped to find a “Compensation for Dummies” book from Amazon.

Of course, there are no rules, no instruction manuals or pointed arrows on the road, each guaranteed to take you by the hand and show the way to career success.  Instead, the experiences of those who went before you are varied and distinct in so many ways, usually a compilation of diverse career choices, working for particular supervisors who influenced for good or ill, differing type and operating style of employers, and of course the series of unanticipated head knocks (lessons learned from mistakes) that one gains over the length of a career.

What happened to me may not happen to you, I thought.   There is no, “Read this and you’ll be fine.”

So I condensed my experiences, career preferences, personal work philosophy, and gut instincts into a set of generic principles that could (or should) provide a solid platform of suggestions for anyone interested in career success, whatever the chosen profession.

Below is the essence of my response to that recent graduate, reflecting my thoughts for how a compensation practitioner can become a success.  It’s not a complete list, the specific applications can sway in the wind along with the reality of personal circumstances, but the concepts are broad enough for individual interpretation.

  • Understand your organization:  You need to know at least the basics of the business operations where you work.  What are your products/services and what advantages do they offer a customer or community?   What is the company’s reputation, and why? Don’t remain stuck in your office/cubicle, but get out there and learn about what makes the business tick.
  • Understand the compelling facts:  What is the business environment that your organization operates in, and how competitive is your reward program?  What story does the compensation metrics of your organization tell you?   What issues do you face with payroll, turnover, morale, engagement, etc?  Sadly though, all too many practitioners start and stop here.
  • Understand your management: Who are these people who run the business and what are their management biases?  Learn the perspectives that each of them brings toward making HR and compensation decisions.  Know these leaders and take every opportunity to ensure that they know you.
  • Understand your goals: If you don’t know where you’re going, or which pathway you’re on, then any road will do. So learn what defines success at your organization and strive to support efforts in that direction.  Make sure that your own objectives are integrated into the larger picture of overall success.
  • Mix, stir and bake at 350 degrees until done!  Take all of the knowledge gained from the above, combine it with your own skill sets and experience, a little political deftness and then work diligently at making a difference,  every day.

And there you are!  Follow these suggestions in pursuing your chosen career and everything will be fine.

Bob’s your uncle.